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Monday Morning Meeting on "Evolving Political Situation in Pakistan: Prognosis for the Future”

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  • November 28, 2022
    Monday Morning Meeting
    1000 hrs

    Dr. Ashok K. Behuria, Senior Fellow, Manohar Parrikar IDSA, spoke on "Evolving Political Situation in Pakistan: Prognosis for the Future” at the Monday Morning Meeting which was held on 28 November 2022 at 10 AM. The meeting was moderated by Dr. Nazir Ahmad Mir, Research Assistant, Manohar Parrikar IDSA. All the scholars of the Institute participated in the meeting.

    Executive Summary

    During the meeting, the speaker shared his observations on the recent developments in Pakistan, especially in the context of the appointment of the new army chief and the ongoing political and economic crises which have added to Pakistan’s fragility as a state. The speaker provided useful information about the ongoing political situation, focusing especially on the politics behind the mass protests by former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the appointment of the new army chief.  

    Detailed Report

    The Monday Morning Meeting began with moderator Dr. Nazir Ahmad Mir providing an overview of the current political situation in Pakistan, especially in the context of the appointment of the new army chief. He said that Imran Khan had basically two demands (i) an early election, and that (ii) the appointment of the new army chief should be based on merit. Finally, he accepted the decision of the Shehbaz Sharif Government to appoint General Syed Asim Munir as the new army chief without much fuss. 

    Dr. Nazir further stated that Pakistan’s economy was not in good shape and the situation worsened after the recent floods. He dwelt briefly on the new debates in Pakistan these days about the future of civil-military relations in the country and said that the army had categorically stated that it would remain neutral in politics. Another important development, he said, was the re-emergence of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which had put Kabul and Islamabad in a very difficult situation. He posed the following questions: What will be Imran Khan’s next move, after the appointment of the new army chief?  How would the economic crisis and the future of civil-military relations impact the country’s stability or instability? How would domestic politics influence the country’s foreign policy? 

     Dr. Ashok K. Behuria in continuation of the moderator’s remarks tried to analyse developments in Pakistan related to the retirement of the incumbent Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and appointment of the new chief over the last few weeks. He said that the controversy surrounding the selection of the new army chief had started petering out and Imran Khan was in a de-escalation mode. He held that Imran Khan’s protest march was all about the appointment of the new army chief and he did not want Asim Munir in that position because he had personal issues with him, having shunted him out after only 8 months in office as the Director- General of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) in June 2019. 

    Imran also raised the issue of Shehbaz Sharif consulting with Nawaz Sharif in London about the appointment of the army chief and regarded it as improper in view of the fact that Nawaz was a convicted person and had fled Pakistan. Imran had also shown his uneasiness when it transpired that Nawaz favoured the selection of Asim Munir on the basis of seniority. Imran’s followers had even raised the issue of Asim Munir’s ineligibility because he has to retire two days before the army chief’s tenure comes to an end. 

    Dr. Behuria also pointed out that Imran would have liked either Gen. Faiz Hameed or Gen. Azhar Abbas as the next chief because both of them had played some role in strengthening his political career at the cost of his opponents for which he was touted as the ‘selected prime minister’ by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). However, when he saw that decision was finally taken following due procedures by the incumbent government, he accepted it, but not before queering the pitch at the very last minute by saying that he would ‘play’ along with the President within the confines of the law indicating that the President, who was from his party could delay the appointment by returning the file to the Prime Minister for reconsideration! As per the Constitution, the whole process would have taken about 25 days after which he would have had to accept the decision of the government. 

    However, ultimately good sense prevailed and Imran accepted the decision and has now come out with statements suggesting that he was prepared to put everything behind and move forward, by which he meant that he was not serious about his earlier allegations that the army had a role to play in his loss of power and the US had orchestrated the political crisis in Pakistan acting behind the scene. 

     Dr. Behuria said that Imran had been able get people to back him and his rallies remind one of the rallies of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of the 1960s when Bhutto fell out of favour with Ayub Khan. He also held that Imran was likely to come back to power in the next elections and the new army chief will have to find some way of mending fences with him. He also argued that Imran-Bajwa differences cannot be regarded as Imran’s disillusionment with the army. This also did not mean that Imran wanted civilian supremacy. He was only unhappy with the army leadership for not supporting him at a moment when his party lost majority in the National Assembly in March 2022. 

     He said that Pakistan was passing through interesting times. However, Pakistan’s approach to India was unlikely to change much and the army under Asim Munir is expected to follow the path charted out for him by his predecessors on Kashmir which is excessively focussed on final resolution of the Kashmir issue through implementation of UN resolutions. 

    The presentation by Dr. Behuria was followed by an animated discussion. 

    The Report was prepared by Mr. Afroz Khan, Research Assistant, MP-IDSA.